Who knew the Messiah was born as the baby Jesus in Bethlehem in that wintertime?
In this Gospel Reading, a lot of people came to figure it out.
The chief priests and scribes knew where the Messiah would be born because they could interpret the parts in the Old Testament that predicted the Messiah’s birth. The magi from the East knew that the Messiah had been born because they could interpret the presence of the star in the sky. When the magi followed the star to Bethlehem to see for themselves, Herod the King ordered them to come back and tell him too.
For all these people, there was a way to know the birth of the Messiah. The priests could interpret Scripture, and the magi could read the stars. King Herod had the political power to command their knowledge and wisdom for his own purposes.
But what about people who lack the advantages of the priests and magi and who have no power to command others? How are they to know? Does God make provision only for the fortunate?
Consider the shepherds. They lacked the money needed for education, and so they lacked the ability to use Scripture or stars to know the birth of the Messiah. They had no power to command others to share the fruits of their education with them either.
But it isn’t powerlessness or poverty that keeps a person from knowing the birth of the Messiah. In the end, it was not the shepherds but the powerful and wealthy King Herod, with his evil-hearted intentions, who did not know the baby Jesus was the Messiah. The magi didn’t tell him, because God warned them in a dream not to. And so Herod the King didn’t know.
In spite of their lack of all worldly advantages, the shepherds in fact outranked the king and all the others. They were by the side of the Messiah first, and they didn’t have to figure out for themselves where his birth place was either.
The shepherds may have been poor and simple, but they were trusting and open-hearted. And so they knew Christ Jesus was born in a manager in Bethlehem that cold winter night because they heard the angels sing.
Eleonore Stump is Professor of Philosophy, Saint Louis University
**From Saint Louis University